Despite continued tensions over dairy policy, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow was upbeat Tuesday on prospects for a farm bill, saying top negotiators are “just tying up loose ends” and “feeling very good about things” going into a full meeting of the House-Senate conference later this week.
No formal session has yet been scheduled, but Stabenow said she “fully” expects one in the next few days and held out hope that a conference report could be signed, clearing the way for floor consideration as early as next week.
“We just have to get through that conference committee, get the report signed,” the Michigan Democrat told reporters. “There’s a desire to get this done by everybody.”
Despite Stabenow’s optimism, there remains some confusion as to how fast events will actually move and when the text of the conference report will be ready.
Behind the scenes, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is warning that he will not accept “supply management” provisions in the new dairy chapter –an initiative championed by Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.
Despite losing a floor vote on the issue last summer in the House, Peterson has persisted in the conference with the help of Stabenow. He can be tenacious in such fights, having chaired the Agriculture panel when the last farm bill was enacted in 2008. And he is an invaluable ally for the current chair, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) in trying to move forward.
All this gives Peterson considerable capital, but thus far no compromise has been found that will appease both Boehner and him.
An aide to the speaker confirmed Tuesday that Boehner participated in a conference call last Friday with Lucas and Peterson in which “the speaker made clear to Peterson that there’d be no supply management in any final farm bill.”
Except for one public meeting, most of the negotiations have been carried out behind closed doors by Stabenow, Lucas, Peterson and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, the ranking Republican in the Senate. The meeting this week, expected Thursday or Friday, appears designed to allow the full conference to weigh in on several outstanding issues, but most are minor next to the political implications of dairy.